By MANDY BUFKIN
Does anyone else do things out of obligation because you feel like you should? When you don’t do that thing, you feel guilty, but when you do, it feels like a waste of time.
To be transparent, I’ve spent lots of time in the last few years feeling that way about having quiet time with God. When I was younger, I could journal, pray, and sing worship songs for hours by myself. My time with God was the best part of my day, and I loved staying in His presence.
As I got older, “life happened.” Grief, bitterness, resentment and anxiety crept in. Sometimes like ocean waves engulfing me, but sometimes like little seeds dropping into my heart and mind. I was angry at God for things that happened. Didn’t He know I had been faithful to Him? Didn’t He know all I had sacrificed to serve Him? Yet this was how He repaid me.
I was so mad and hurt that I stayed away. If I faced God, I would melt down, and I didn’t have time for that.
God was still in my life, but instead of that best friend you call every time something happens, He was more like that high-school acquaintance you catch up with in the grocery store. “It’s so good to see you. Yes, we should definitely get together soon!” Your shopping carts move forward, and you never make time for that “get-together.”
I continued to do occasional Bible studies and quiet times, attended church pretty regularly, but at the same time I knew it still wasn’t like it used to be. After 15 minutes, I was ready to be done. It felt like an item to check off the list out of obligation and what I “should” do, rather than what my heart desired to do.
So now it’s been eight years since the grief and bitterness began. A few months ago, I sat in a prayer service, crying, finally realizing that all the things I was mad about had nothing to do with God’s promises. I had asked and prayed for XYZ, but He’d never promised me those things. I felt like God had broken my trust, had lied to me, had led me to believe that none of the bad things I feared would actually happen. That wasn’t true.
I had made my faith transactional. If I do this, then God will honor me by doing that. If I agree to be a missionary, God won’t let anything bad happen to my family. If I agree to stay sexually pure, God will provide me a husband in my timing.
But that was the exchange I wanted — never the one God promised.
Over the past year I’ve realized bits and pieces of this, but in that church service it all came together. I sat crying and just saying I’m sorry.
The thing that amazes me about God is how much He still loves me. After I’ve been bitter and angry and held those feelings close to me because I didn’t want to be vulnerable with God after He “betrayed” me. After the distance, reading my Bible out of obligation, going to church because that’s what I “should” do. After all of this, I sat in that prayer service and heard God say, “I want to use you in My kingdom — let Me.” He loves us so much that He still wants us to be a part of His story.
Isn’t that what the gospel is about to begin with? He purifies our souls because He loves us. He wants to spend time with us. It’s not about our sins, how distant we’ve been, or anything else we’ve done. It’s about a heart of repentance. As soon as we repent, truly repent, He’s there waiting with open arms.
Mandy Bufkin is a Jackson native and Belhaven University alumna. She works at CityHeart Church in Jackson, where she is ministries director. Outside of work, Mandy enjoys reading and spending time with her husband, Craig, and son, Ezra, at their home in Jackson.